The paradox of courage


Courage: the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery.

By Justin Broglio

There are a lot of famous quotes documented on the topic of courage. A good majority on the physical kind that arises from the fight-or-flight response in our brains, and a whole lot more said about the moral kind that materializes in our choices and our actions in the face of whatever life throws at us.

This week a mess of those quotes have been flying around social media, spouted on every major news outlet and sports blogs in the country and turned in memes that will both make you tear up a little and more likely—depending on who’s in your timeline—want to throw your iPad across the room.

So…what more can I add?

How about some context.

First, let me clarify that this isn’t going to be about Jenner’s beauty and how I wish more than anything she would (and let’s hope she will) use this moment and her influence on society to say that discussing whether or not she is “f@ckable” is not OK. It’s not OK in the bar, it’s not OK amongst the bros, and as John Stewart explains so well—it’s one of the core issues keeping us in the cave. And it makes me so angry I can’t keep from writing about it.

Caitlyn Jenner* (born William Bruce Jenner, October 28, 1949) is at her core an athlete—and a damn good one at that. After winning the Olympic Gold Medal in the 1976 decathlon, she was for four years, unofficially, the “world’s greatest athlete.”

During the height of the tensions between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union, Jenner united a nation and inspired a generation—as coy as it sounds, it’s true. Her performance in the 1976 Olympics and the resulting wave of patriotism that spread across the country has been compared to the surge seen after the U.S. men’s Olympic hockey team’s victory in 1980.

More importantly, as so well explained by ESPN’s senior writer Jim Caple, Jenner’s victory and what happened afterward left a mark on the sports world, the advertising world and athletes across the country.

Internally, only a handful of athletes in history know what she went through during that time. I can only imagine it was a whirlwind of emotions including pride, passion, exhilaration, gratefulness, relief, energy, thrill, joy, fear, confidence and ten others I’m forgetting.

But I have a theory—and I may be way out on a limb—but I think that there probably wasn’t a whole lot of talk about Jenner’s courage.

Don’t get me wrong here—obviously it took some courage to walk out on the field, take her position on the starting line, and run like she had never run before against the best in the world.

That’s different.

This week and the weeks leading up to it have been a whole hell of a lot different.

It takes courage—the real kind from way deep down in the depths of your soul—to do what Jenner has done.

It takes courage to challenge the norm and accept the onslaught of opinions on your personal choice.

It takes courage to sit down with your wife of 23 years, the people you love, and the people who you care about and tell them what’s going on.

It takes courage to change.

So…that’s why ESPN is giving her the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.

It has nothing to do with whether or not Jenner is more courageous than the veterans who have keep our way of life secure for centuries. And the people who have jumped onto this junk wagon are afraid and now unfollowed. Thanks Nick Martin.

And the award has nothing to do with her courage while waiting in the blocks. She has been down that path already and she had her turn.

It is about her life and her influence transcending sports and I for one think she damn well deserves it.

*DPB chooses to honor Caitlyn’s preferred pronoun. She put a great deal of though and effort in requesting that media get it right and respect her—so we will.

Justin Broglio is former President of the Sierra Avalanche Center. He is a father, a husband, a backcountry skier and communications officer for the DRI in Reno. He has never completed a decathlon.